Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
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This Is The Kit's Personal Best

01 June 2023, 12:30

Since adopting her This Is The Kit alias 20 years ago, Kate Stables has been charming ever-larger audiences with the melodic nous of her vivid, shapeshifting songs. With a new album due – and ahead of an appearance at this year's Black Deer Festival – she looks back with Alan Pedder on five highlights of the journey so far.

There’s so much more to This Is The Kit than first meets the ear. With all the warmth and personality radiating from their songs, the depth and complexity of the arrangements can take time to fully appreciate.

Once you notice them, though, it’s impossible not to admire the care and consideration that really elevates the work beyond those first impressions. Formed in 2003 as the solo project of Kate Stables with the close assistance of her partner Jesse Vernon, the band grew to include guitarist Neil Smith, drummer Jamie Whitby-Coles and Rozi Plain – a fantastic songwriter in her own right – on bass and backing vocals, and it’s these four that we hear working with nimble ingenuity on their sixth album, Careful of Your Keepers, out next week on Rough Trade Records. Produced by Welsh hero Gruff Rhys, it’s a gorgeous distillation of two decades of the band’s ever-expanding creative vision, and a tender exploration of our fragilities as humans in the face of time’s relentless march.

Two decades in, This Is The Kit are more of a family than a band, and that’s a word that comes up often while chatting with Stables about their journey so far. With a short festival run starting with this month’s Black Deer Festival of Americana ahead of their biggest tour yet, the band are gearing up for spending months on the road together of the US and Europe. For now, though, she’s in Paris, the city she and Vernon have called home since 2006.


Apologising for being on a chocolate buzz that has her feeling like “a jittering sugar head,” she’s endearingly rambly and relaxed as we dig through five of her favourite This Is The Kit songs, which go all the way back to those first months in France. “I was torn between choosing the significant songs that people kind of know, and that have kind of influenced the project in a way, or choosing some of the lesser known ones that I have a particular memory of recording or writing,” she explains. “In the end I kind of went for a hybrid of both.”

Keen readers will notice that she hasn’t chosen anything from Careful of Your Keepers here – not because she doesn’t think they’re any good, it’s just too new to pick favourites. If she was forced to, after a minute or two of umming and ahhing, she says it would probably be either of the album’s bookends, “Goodbye Bite” or “Dibs”. “I realised in the last interview I did that these two songs are in the wrong place, chronologically speaking,” she says.

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“Emotionally and sonically, they are in the right place on the album, but ‘Goodbye Bite’ was written after a period of certain stuff happening and ‘Dibs’ was written kind of as it was happening. I don’t know what that means, but I feel like it’s worth acknowledging and thinking about. ‘Goodbye Bite’ is almost like a prologue that tells you the ending before you go off on this sort of rollercoaster ride.”

There’s a lot on Careful of Your Keepers about how and why humans measure and quantify everything around us, physically and emotionally. When writing ‘Goodbye Bite’ in particular, Stables says she was thinking about the state of the world, particularly how awful everything feels in the UK these days and all the upheaval in France.

“All over the world it felt like a lot of things were taking a turn for the worse, so I started off thinking about the idea of a measuring stick for how shit things are in terms of the political climate. And then that turned into an exploration of something more personal. It’s kind of an acknowledgement that we as human beings do find ourselves in really hard situations and have to deal with those by sort of measuring how not okay the situation is.”

Of course, with Stables being who she is, there’s an upside to every downer. She points out that when we’re measuring how bad things are, we are also sort of measuring how good it is too. “I often think of Rozi when I’m singing this song,” she says. “When she was little, she used to measure how much of a good time she was having by asking herself the question, ‘Would I rather be at Romsey Rapids?’ – I absolutely love that. I love that so much. And it makes me want to go there.”

Stables doesn’t ordinarily prefer to talk about what her songs mean. When people ask her, she says she’ll often avoid talking about the specifics, often because she’s just “mentally incapable” of doing so. “My songs are how I explain things, so to then try and explain the songs sort of make my brain start turning in on itself,” she says, laughing. It might just be the chocolate talking, but today she’s up for giving it a shot, starting with an early favourite from debut album Krulle Bol.

"Two Wooden Spoons" (2007)

KATE STABLES: A lot of people think this song is about me and my twin Emily, and I’d love to think it could be but the truth is that it isn’t. Well, I often feel like I start writing songs about one thing and then as time passes I realise that they are about loads of other things as well, so maybe partly it is about me and her. Often a song might not necessarily be about one particular relationship, but about one type of relationship that you kind of share with different people at different times in your life.

I wrote “Two Wooden Spoons” when I had just moved to Paris. This was quite a long time ago so I only have snapshots of memories, but I do remember it being a really close friend’s birthday, which is where the “Happy birthday, happy birthday, runny eyes” line comes from. The whole song is kind of about that friend, and about the sort of friendship where you end up being almost a carbon copy of each other, just because of how much time you spend together and how much growing up you do together. I feel a bit wary about saying too much, actually, because I don’t think the person in question knows that the song is about them. I do feel bad that it isn’t about Emily. Emily totally deserves a song, she’s brilliant.

Because of this song I’ve ended up getting asked to play loads of weddings, which is amazing. People will just contact me out of the blue and ask me to come and play “Two Wooden Spoons” because it’s ‘their song,' and if I am able to do it, I do it. So this song has resulted in some really touching encounters with people to whom it means a lot, and that feels like a real gift. It’s funny, though, because I often get asked to play at the reception as well as during the ceremony, but no one at a wedding reception wants to hear someone playing songs they’ve never heard like it’s some kind of open mic disaster. They’re like, ‘What the fuck is this person doing? Where’s the ABBA tribute act?’

I feel like “Two Wooden Spoons” was the first song of mine that ever got played in the radio, but now that I think I about it I’m getting a bit confused about timelines. My memory of thinking ‘Shit, my song is on the radio’ was before I moved to Paris, but I’m pretty sure I wrote this song there. Well, sorry, now I don’t know what’s true… I feel like my grandma! [laughs loudly]

Either way, it was a significant song from the early days. A lot of people know it from a compilation called Folk Off that was put together by Rob da Bank. There was a whole load of compilations like that with titles that were folk puns, but it was surprising how far and wide that one seemed to go. Even to this day people come up to me and say that they first heard my music through “Two Wooden Spoons” being on that compilation, so I feel really lucky that that happened because it was a really significant thing, I think.

BEST FIT: I read that when you first moved to Paris, you and Jesse would occasionally perform together as a duo called Two Wooden Spoons.

Yeah, exactly. When we first moved here, we didn’t have our own place, we didn’t have any money or jobs or anything, so we did quite a lot of busking and playing cover songs in bars. We ended up calling ourselves Two Wooden Spoons, because we are kind of a pair of spoons sometimes!

What are your memories of recording with John Parish in Italy?

It was just great. Such a golden time. But, funnily enough, “Two Wooden Spoons” is a little bit of an odd one out on Krulle Bol because it was recorded in Paris and Bristol rather than at the farmhouse in Italy where we made the rest of the album.

I think another nice thing about “Two Wooden Spoons” is that it’s the first time I worked on a recording with Jamie, who became This Is The Kit’s drummer, so it’s nice to have that sort of time capusule. I remember how easily and perfectly he found the kind of drum personality that I wanted. We’d tried other drummers and friends in Paris but it wasn’t quite there, although saying that I think the version that made it on to the album has two drummers. The other one is Julien Barbagallo, who plays with Tame Impala now!

What can you tell me about the Krulle Bol demos album that was released in Japan? Did you have a hit over there or something?

I don’t know if ‘hit’ is the right word! But Jesse has some really good friends in Japan, and one of them was Naoki [Iijima] who had a record shop in Tokyo called Disc Shop Zero. Sadly Naoki has died now, but back in the day he was obsessed with all music from Bristol and that was mostly what they sold.

Naoki got really into Jesse’s band The Moonflowers and also into his later project Morning Star, and through that he sort of discovered my music. When we were in Whalebone Polly together, Rachael Dadd was living out there with him for a bit, so me and Jesse and our daughter went out there for a tour where we played a real mixture of songs from our different bands. I guess that the demos were released to kind of go along with the tour, but maybe I am remembering things in the wrong order. Either way, for some reason they were really up for releasing them.

I often forget they exist and that they’re on the internet. Sometimes someone will have them on a Spotify playlist and this really old demo will come up and it makes me feel really, really strange. It’s interesting though, and it’s good to have that time capsule. Naoki was a brilliant man.

I saw that you have a Krulle Bol reissue coming out on your own label soon.

Yeah, we do! We're heading out on tour again and everyone's like, ‘Wait a minute, we've got no Krulle Bol,’ so we’ve pressed up another few of those. It's nice that it’s sort of out again, because a first album is really something isn’t it? It’s a significant milestone.

This is the Kit Krulle Bol

"Tangled Walker (1st EP Version)" (2007)

BEST FIT: This song is also on Krulle Bol but you’ve chosen the earlier EP version here. Why’s that?

KATE STABLES: I often forget about the first EP that we released, which came out on a label belonging to some Parisien friends, Microbe Records, which doesn’t exist anymore. They were putting out Jesse’s music and then they put out both this EP and Krulle Bol. And even though I forget about it, it’s a significant one because it’s the first time I remember working with Neil, who is our guitarist in This Is The Kit. I knew him through Jesse because they were in a band together, also with Jamie, called The Liftmen, and I just loved his guitar playing and he’s just such a great guy to be around.

This song was one of the first times that I was allowing myself to mess around with feedback on the guitar, and I remember it just felt really nice to be making these sort of wailing noises. Neil is really good at noisy stuff, so I think we added some wailing noises from him, and then there’s Jesse on the drums just whacking things. So it was a really exciting track to make, for me. I really like noisy stuff. It’s easy to forget that – for me and for other people – when I’m out there playing the banjo or picked guitar. But I do like a bit of crunch and it was fun to basically ‘discover’ feedback on “Tangled Walker”.

When you listen to the two versions, back-to-back, what differences do you feel?

I feel the differences in the space. With the album version, I can feel the old farmhouse in Italy where we recorded with John. I think what’s nice about that album is that you can hear the differences in the rooms. We were recording either upstairs in this sort of tiled living room that had its own particular sound, or downstairs in the cellar which apparently used to be a place where they would hold criminals, like a prison or something. I love that I can hear those spaces and be transported back to that time, which was really an amazing time. It's a similar thing with the EP version. Listening to it takes me back to the cupboard room studio in a multistorey car park in Paris where we recorded it, and that it just felt really great to let rip on the feedback.

I think this is a rare example of one of my songs being about just one thing. Most aren’t as clear-cut as this one, which is just a song about my family. There’s six of us, and we all take up a lot of space – sonic space as well as physical space – so this is a song about how funny but also overwhelming it can be when we are all in the same place at the same time. There’s a lot of love in that place, but also a lot of noise and not much room.

So the tangled walker is all of you with your 24 limbs?

Exactly. It's a big monster that's made out of six people!

This is the Kit 1st EP

"Spinney" (2010)

KATE STABLES: I feel like this one is quite significant because it’s one that people have always reacted really strongly to at festivals. I have very lovely memories of playing those shows and just feeling really amazing and surprised at the response. I also feel like it’s an early example of me having fun with rhythms. Rhythm is something that I’ve always enjoyed messing about with and exploring, and I feel like this song is a notable one because there’s different cross-rhythms going on that I really enjoyed writing. It can be a difficult one to explain to people, or for people to learn. At gigs, when people try to clap along to the rhythm, there’s just no way they can do it unless they’re all drummers or something. Oh, that sounds really patronising… I hope I don’t sound like a dick! I just think it’s such a mean song to try and teach people.

BEST FIT: Wriggle Out the Restless was the first time you had a horn section, right?

Yes, good point! It’s funny, because for the gigs we got real horn players but a lot of the horns on the album is just me playing really out of tune trumpet. Rozi had a clarinet at the time, so there’s a lot of her on the clarinet, as well as Frànçois [Marry, of Frànçois & the Atlas Mountains] on trumpet. He’s much better at it than I am. It’s really funny to remember that.

Another nice thing about this album is that we recorded the main bones of it down in Saintes with Frànçois and Amaury [Ranger] and the rest of that crew. I don’t listen back to this album but as I was relistening to these songs before this interview I was really like, ‘Oh wow, I can hear Amaury playing his calabash and doing his thing,’ which is really nice to remember because he hardly plays at all these days. It’s lovely to be able to revisit those musical memories with people.

Going back to “Spinney”, there’s a particular place I see in my head when I play this song, which is a place in Winchester where I grew up called St. Catherine’s Hill. It has a bunch of trees on top, which is the spinney I’m talking about. This song is kind of about longing for something that you know is not a good idea and sort of wanting to do it anyway. So, for me, it’s quite a nostalgic one that reminds me of being a teenager and just hanging around on the hill all night and then going home. It’s about remembering how amazing it feels at that age to be out until the sun comes up with this crew of friends that you just spend all your days with.

This is the Kit Wriggle Out The Restless

"Found Out (Horns Version)" (2021)

KATE STABLES: Ever since introducing the horns on Wriggle Out the Restless, I’ve really enjoyed having them around. The album version of “Found Out” is less horny – or should that be horn-sy? – than this one. I feel almost naughty because of how much I enjoy listening to this song. Because it’s my song it feels like I’m not supposed to love it so much, but I do. That’s partly because I just love the people who play the horns on this track [Pete Judge, Lorenzo Prati, Sam Hayfield and Taz Mains] and on the new album. I just want to rugby tackle them to the ground whenever I see them because I just love them so much. They’re so good at interpreting Jesse’s arrangements, which are often really challenging. He’ll write certain passages that really push everyone’s ability and tolerance, and I really love whatever it is that he’s doing.

I feel like “Found Out” is some sort of cousin of “Spinney” because it’s another one where I was just enjoying playing with rhythm. I think having a lot of rhythmical stuff happening is what makes me feel most alive when it comes to music, and I really enjoy playing this one because of that. It started off just with my guitar and a tambourine cross-rhythm, and then Jamie added his own cross-rhythms on the drums, because he’s really good at that stuff. Then there’s Rozi’s bassline, which Jesse chose to double with the horns to sort of accentuate it. It has a sort of magic effect on my brain!

BEST FIT: Is this one of the songs you wrote while you were on tour with The National?

Um, it's hard to know exactly, because there was a lot of stuff on Moonshine Freeze that I wrote at that time but there’s also other stuff that was written in different gaps. I’m trying to find the memory of me finding the chords and the tambourine pattern. I guess if I had a tambourine with me, I was probably in my flat in Paris. I don’t think I would have brought a tambourine on tour with The National. So the music for this might have been planted at a different time, but the lyrics might have come at another time during that year of travelling.

It's a funny song, because I feel like it started off as sort of questioning and not really understanding the connection between people, but now I see it as kind of a reassuring acceptance of the connection between people. It’s really pleasing to play, and the band play it so well. I just really love it. And I like it when other people share different versions of their songs, so I felt it was a nice thing to do for people [to release the Off Off Oddities EP] just in case they were interested.

For me, there’s no sort of ‘definitive’ version of a song. It’s nice to let other versions exist. Gigs are one way but that’s kind of ephemeral and sometimes it’s nice to revisit different versions and see how things changed. Songs kind of have their own life, and I like it when there’s chance and accidents and hazard in things, rather than songs being like bugs in amber, like ‘It will always be this way!’

This is the Kit Off Off Oddities

"Solid Grease" (2017)

KATE STABLES: Again, I think I chose this one for the recording memories. We did the whole album at Invada Studios in Bristol, and it was a really special time with really special people. My main memory of doing this song was getting a musician friend of ours from Paris, Vincent Mougel, to come into the studio with us for a few days, to play keyboards and synths and stuff. When it came to “Solid Grease”, we asked him to play some piano but there was something a bit too ‘genred’ – is that even a word? – to what he was doing at first, almost like something out of a 1970s country song. But then someone in the studio mentioned the piano at the end of “Aladdin Sane”, where it doesn’t even try to sound in tune, and Vince just did this amazing, sort of face-melting take that was so exciting to witness.

This track holds a lot of other important people in it, too. We have a really good friend called Catherine Hershey, who was in Paris but is based in Brussels these days, and she can sing really high, almost dog-whistle high. We challenged her to sing the sort of theme melody at the end of the song in that insanely high way, and she just did it. I can’t even pretend to sing that high so I can’t do an impression of it for you, but it’s so great and it makes me feel amazing when I listen to it. The combination of Vince on the piano and Catherine singing, to me it feels like a choir of important Parisien musical family.

Also, just being back in Bristol and making this album with our important Bristol musical family was so nice. When I picked this song, I thought I remembered that my twin sister was singing backing vocals on it. But now I’ve listened back to it, I can’t hear her so either I missed it or I got it wrong. Anyway, she’s on other songs on the album. She lives not far away from where we made the album in Southfield, so it was really lovely to be able to have her come in and sing with us. I always feel reluctant to double-track my voice, and I don’t really know why because I don’t mind when other people do it. Personally, I’d much rather get someone else to sing with me if I need a vocal doubled, and the amazing thing about having a twin sister is that we sound so alike. Sometimes you can’t even tell that it’s not my voice. Anyway, I thought we’d done that on this song but maybe we didn’t.

“Solid Grease” is the last song on Moonshine Freeze, and in a way it feels like a sort of distant cousin to “Dibs”, which is the last song on Careful of Your Keepers. It’s actually making me feel a bit funny because I’m only just realising this now, so this is coming straight from my brain. I think it’s because both songs have important people doing choir-y parts at the end. With “Dibs”, Jesse had sent the track to a lot of important friends ours and asked them to sing on it, which I didn’t know about until he surprised me with it in the mixing process. It was so moving to hear all of those people who are important parts of our lives singing together. He also asked Vince to play piano on it with him, so that’s another connection between the two songs. They have the same kind of magic spell ingredients, you know?

BEST FIT: They’ll be linked forever now! Going back to “Solid Grease”, what can you tell me about where the song comes from – if you're comfortable with sharing?

I guess I was just using the build-up of a sort of patina of residue and dust and crud as a metaphor for how humans deal with things emotionally, whether we decide to get past it and clean it out, or just ignore it. I don’t know if I thought about this while writing the song, but these days when I sing the words ‘human oil’ it makes me think of the Mulefas in [Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials]. Even though they are not humans, they have this oil that comes from their seed pods that helps them to see what the church views as original sin but is really just awareness, I guess.

I don’t know how that links with the rest of the song, but it’s not always easy rubbing along with people. There’s stuff that you decide to say and stuff that you decide to not say and keep to yourself, and often there’s no right or wrong in that. Some people are more inclined to not say things while others are inclined to just have it all out in the open. And of course, it’s case by case as well. Sometimes it feels appropriate and other times it doesn’t feel appropriate. So, yeah, the song is really about human communication and honesty and this idea of being authentic with each other, and how relationships survive through all of this inevitable conflict. There are always going to be times in life when you are cross with someone and you want to tell them, and maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but eventually it passes and you’re out on the other side of it.

This is the Kit Moonshine Freeze

Black Deer Festival of Americana takes place at Eridge Park in Kent on 16–18 June. Careful of Your Keepers is released 9 June via Rough Trade Records.

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